A Better Solution

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In the march towards a congressional vote on military action in Syria, one thing became glaringly obvious: the Obama administration had run out of options, and leverage. Maybe Secretary of State John Kerry sensed it and knew exactly what he was doing when he offered Syria an olive branch on Monday. The terms were (and are) simple: give up your chemical weapons stockpiles. We don’t know if this was a strategic plan by Kerry, but we do know that it was accepted almost immediately by both Russia and Syria, and has become a far better solution to this whole saga than anything previous.

Military intervention was meant for one (double) reason only: deter the future use of chemical weapons, and make sure Assad can’t do this again. It was never meant to remove Assad from power, or substantially help the opposition — that would be “war”, according to the Obama administration. What this proposal from Russia/Syria/Kerry does is put these weapons under the control of the international arena — presumably some UN agency — therefore accounting for both deterrence and Assad’s capability to use chemical weapons. If the Obama administration has been honest all along, and chemical weapons have been the first and only reason to act, it couldn’t have worked out better.

Many are pointing out that, “we’re relying on Russia and Syria to carry this out? Fat chance.” They have a point. Maybe the plan will never be realized; but it’s still a better option than military intervention. Russia’s acceptance of the plan means we may see a Security Council resolution affirming this proposal — something that’s been missing all along. Russia wont veto a resolution they themselves proposed, and I doubt China would want to be the lone state standing in the way of a diplomatic solution.

Another pessimistic — but possible — take is that Assad will never agree to go through with this. Having chemical weapons is not an insignificant thing in the grander scheme of regional power politics, where Assad has to keep one eye on neighbors like Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Israel, who want nothing more than a regime change in Damascus.

But even if Assad balks, the entire paradigm of this conflict has been altered for the better. If the United States feels forced to attack Syria if the proposal fails, they’ll probably do so with a UN resolution and a greater number of allies behind them — both pipe dreams on September 8. And if by chance Assad agrees to whatever the proposal ends up being, the U.S. will have averted a war, saved face, and accounted for Syria’s chemical weapons. Win-win-win.

On September 8, the United States stood completely alone. Domestic support was horrendous; the backing of the Security Council (and NATO) was nonexistent; Russia was becoming more vocal and dangerous; Iran was threatening retribution; and even Britain pulled support.

How strange would it be, then, if a simple gaffe by John Kerry ended up preventing another Middle-East war?

(Photo: Chair. Joint Chiefs)

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Forget The Pill, Meet The Pullout Generation

Suprise Yr Pregnant

Over at the Cut, Ann Friedman has a really great piece introducing us to something she calls the “pullout generation”, where large numbers of women — usually in their 30’s — are using the old school pullout method as their primary means of birth control:

These women describe a deliberate transition from the pill to the pullout. They buy organic kale and all-natural cleaning products, and so can’t quite get down with taking synthetic hormones every day. They are more driven by sexual pleasure — they see orgasms as a right, not a privilege — and hate the feel of condoms. They wouldn’t call themselves porn aficionados or anything, but they don’t think it’s demeaning to have a man come on them. They’re sick of supposedly egalitarian relationships in which they bear the sole responsibility for staying baby-free. They’re scared to stick an IUD up there, no matter how many rave reviews the devices get. And despite the fact that non-hormonal contraceptive options remain frustratingly limited, there are new tools at their disposal: With period-tracker apps, charting your menstrual cycle is no longer the domain of hippies and IVF patients. They know when to make him put on a condom. Plus, they can keep a packet of Plan B on hand at all times, ready and waiting should anything go awry.

Far be it for me to advise women how to go about not getting pregnant, but if you’re one of the women who prefers the pullout method, just know that you’re playing with fire — and by fire I mean you’re putting way too much trust and credit in the hands of your male counterpart, who probably has the tendency to forget what to do when the end draws near. If you’re totally certain that you don’t want to have a baby right now, the pullout method should rank pretty low (and I mean at the bottom) on your list of acceptable birth control regimens.

(Photo: Anthony Easton)

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Could This Kerry Gaffe Accidentally Save Us From War?

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Earlier today, while pressed by the media for alternatives to military intervention, Secretary of State Kerry accidentally said this:

Asked if there were steps the Syrian president could take to avert an American-led attack, Mr. Kerry said, “Sure, he could turn over every single bit of his chemical weapons to the international community in the next week — turn it over, all of it, without delay and allow the full and total accounting.”

The State Department went into crisis mode almost immediately, making it clear the Secretary was being totally hypothetical:

“Secretary Kerry was making a rhetorical argument about the impossibility and unlikelihood of Assad turning over chemical weapons he has denied he used,” Jen Psaki, the State Department spokeswoman, said in an e-mail to reporters after Mr. Kerry’s comments. “His point was that this brutal dictator with a history of playing fast and loose with the facts cannot be trusted to turn over chemical weapons, otherwise he would have done so long ago. That’s why the world faces this moment.”

So, here’s an idea: if you’re the Secretary of State for the most powerful country in the world, and coincidentally, that country is mulling over the option of launching missiles at another country — don’t be fucking hypothetical. And for the love of Zeus, stop making Hillary Clinton look like the best SOS in history.

Anyway, the Russians immediately pounced on the offer:

“We don’t know whether Syria will agree with this, but if the establishment of international control over chemical weapons in the country will prevent attacks, then we will immediately begin work with Damascus,” Mr. Lavrov said at the Foreign Ministry. “And we call on the Syrian leadership to not only agree to setting the chemical weapons storage sites under international control, but also to their subsequent destruction.”

Holy crap. Kerry made a blunder, but that blunder may actually save us from another terrible Middle-East war. The Russian foreign minister’s support for this — actually quite sensible — plan of controlling Syria’s chemical weapons capabilities is a huge deal. It would protect the world from chemical weapons, therefore appeasing the President. It would also allow Russia to involve itself in a peaceful resolution to this whole mess, without the added degradation of looking like their doing the U.S.’s bidding. And apparently, the UN Sec. Gen is on board. As is Syria:

Wow. This could actually work given the U.S. accepts the terms of the deal and Russia actually lives up to it by helping collect all the chemical weapons in Syria. Two big ifs, but both are better than the alternative of war.

Keep gaffing, Mr. Secretary.

(Photo: Shino)

UPDATE

Gaining momentum.

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You Have To Write Cold

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    “Don’t you drink? I notice you speak slightingly of the bottle. I have drunk since I was fifteen and few things have given me more pleasure. When you work hard all day with your head and know you must work again the next day what else can change your ideas and make them run on a different plane like whisky? When you are cold and wet what else can warm you? Before an attack who can say anything that gives you the momentary well-being that rum does?… The only time it isn’t good for you is when you write or when you fight. You have to do that cold. But it always helps my shooting. Modern life, too, is often a mechanical oppression and liquor is the only mechanical relief.”

    Ernest Hemingway, published in Ernest Hemingway: Selected Letters 1917–1961 (1981) edited by Carlos Baker.

Andrew O’Hagan considers the question of drafting while inebriated:

George Best once said that the greatest disaster of his life was that everybody he met wanted to buy him a drink. You might say, in defence of a well-meaning public, that the disaster was compounded by Best’s inability to refuse. But drinking is in many ways a selfish art, and I say that as someone who likes drinking and who used to love it. There’s a world of difference between the drinker who always wants a companion and the drinker who yearns to drink alone. I’ve always been in the first category and that to me felt like an achievement: my family was riddled with people who died of drink or whose lives were totally unmanageable because of their addiction. They used to say it was an Irish thing or a Glasgow thing, but in fact it was a sad life thing, as if being numb was simply the best option.

Things that rely on disinhibition (dancing, charades, karaoke and fucking) can be improved with drink. But anything that relies on precision (fighting, writing) must be done cold, as Hemingway put it. There are writers who feel quite strongly that disinhibition is the essence of writing, that writing is a form of running naked through the streets. (Put it away, Allen Ginsberg.) My view would be that writing fiction is a form of inhibition made dense and technical. Other people might be freed by it, for a while, but the author is unlikely to be, and God help him if he isn’t sober for the time it takes to get the thing down.

(Photo: Bruce Tuten. Ernest Hemingway’s home Finca Vigia near Havana where he wrote Old Man And The Sea.)

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Quote For The Day: The Supreme Court Of Corporate America

Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia

“You follow this pro-corporate trend to its logical conclusion, and sooner or later you’ll end up with a Supreme Court that functions as a wholly owned subsidiary of big business.”

Elizabeth Warren, criticizing the U.S. Supreme Court as being too right-wing and pro-corporate. Full article can be read at Politico.

Can we just clone her already?

(Photo: flickr user Stephen Masker)

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The Astonishingly Bad Arguments For Another Middle-East War

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During the absurd Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing featuring three senior American officials — Gen. Martin Dempsey, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Chuck Hagel, Secretary of Defense, and John Kerry, Secretary of State — on why the Administration is justified in seeking Congressional approval for a strike against Syria, Kerry argued — with a straight face — that, “We don’t want to go to war in Syria either … The President is not asking you to go to war.”

Except that’s exactly what he’s asking. What is Kerry trying to argue? That just because the ships launching the missiles will be safe from retaliatory fire, it’s not war? Do we only label something as war when other nations kill Americans, not the other way around? I get that it’s kind of been an American thing to launch bombs against other countries, but have we become so jaded about the seriousness of war that we hesitate in labeling a massive bombing campaign against another state’s infrastructure (and people) as such?

The rest of the arguments for intervention — heard during the hearing — were just as illogical, and because I don’t want you to have to sit through the same excruciating video I did, here’s my summary:

    • Assad used chemical weapons, so we should make an example of him to deter other dictators from using chemical weapons in the future. BUT, we don’t mean we should punish him to the point of removing him from power, since Syria would “implode”. Instead, the punishment would focus ONLY on his chemical weapons capabilities. So, while our policy is that Assad has to go, we won’t force him to go. In that case, we’ll launch surgical air strikes directed at his chemical weapons capabilities, but not his ability to rule over Syria. And, we’ll just have to live with the fact that we’re NOT accounting for the other weapons that have killed 99% of Syrians during this conflict. Please vote yes.

Here’s the video (it’s really long):

While reinforcing some abstract international norm — that nations like the United States have willingly broken themselves by allowing Saddam’s regime to use chemical weapons during the Iran-Iraq War — sounds good as a talking point, it hardly motivates anyone to throw their support behind another war. According to The Independent, about 80% of the British people oppose exactly what Obama’s proposing. A Washington Post/ABC News poll found nearly 70% of Americans are likewise against it.

But even while Obama enjoys considerably less domestic support than Bush had with Iraq, as well as no British backing, and open condemnation from much of the UN for immediate intervention, his proposition for air-strikes against Syria may very well pass — by the skin of it’s teeth — in both the Senate and the House of Representatives. Our only hope is that — as we saw in the House of Commons — the representatives of the American people will actually listen to their constituents, and save us all from yet another bloody, costly, unjustified and unpopular sectarian war in the Middle East.

(Photo: Chair. Joint Chiefs)

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Best Of The Week

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I feel like in years to come, we’ll look back on events this week and wonder what we could have done, or argued, differently. I don’t know what will happen if we intervene in Syria. No one can know something like that. What I rely on instead is what little I know about regional history, past military interventions, sectarian violence and the great fallacy that is international law. But despite my furious objection to intervention, my heart breaks that so many innocent people have died — and will die. In a perfect world, we could act as guardian protectors for all those who cannot protect themselves. Provide justice from above. But this isn’t a comic book, and limited air strikes won’t make a bit of difference in the rate of death, turmoil and despair in that poor country. What will happen, I fear, is that we’ll be sucked into another war.

That means more death. More suffering. That’s what I’m opposing.

The most popular post of the week — unsurprisingly — was one of my many pieces on the subject: Syria Is Not Iraq. It’s Much Worse.

Other notable posts included Republicans Were Invited To Attend And Speak At MLK Ceremony. They Didn’t Show Up.; Did The Worst Chemical Weapons Attack In Decades Just Happen In Syria?; the hilariously contentious Starbucks Is Better Than Your Local Coffee Shop. Deal With It.; The Arguments For (And Against) Intervention In Syria; and finally, Boomers, Ye Be Warned: Millennials Are Not Anti-Politics.

More after the holiday.

Publius

(Photo: Chair. Joint Chiefs of Staff)

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Where Is The Anti-War Movement?

SF Peace Protest

Rosie Gray reports on a troubling trend we’ve been noticing here on Left and Center: as we gear up for yet another intervention, the anti-war Left is nowhere to be found:

Activists who turned out thousands of protesters during the lead-up to the invasion of Iraq say they’ve been unable to effectively organize or raise money since the end of the Bush years, and that newer causes like drones have seized the space on the left once occupied by opposition to conventional warfare. And some acknowledge that the energy has leaked out of the movement because a Democrat is now in office. Though some groups have organized online petitions and some real-life protests, the antiwar crowd that was on fire before the war in Iraq has made hardly a dent in the conversation surrounding Syria.

Reihan Salam buys into the partisan angle:

Democratic success hasn’t just weakened the antiwar movement. Though the Obama administration has been criticized by environmentalists and civil libertarians for various failures, real and perceived, the energy behind these movements tends to wane under Democratic administrations, and not just because Democratic administrations are more likely to accept the legitimacy of environmentalist and civil libertarian claims. Similarly, conservative calls for fiscal consolidation and abortion restrictions have tended to be more muted under Republican administrations, though it is possible that this will change in the future.

So, it’s an interesting observation, but not entirely fair. Anti war movements take time to really gain traction, and it’s barely been a week since Obama first signaled his intent to intervene militarily in Syria.

Joshua Keating notes some other reasons why criticisms of the anti-war left may be premature:

…a major premise of the anti-Iraq movement was that the Bush administration was hyping the intelligence on weapons of mass destruction. Yes, Saddam Hussein had also used chemical weapons (with the U.S. government’s knowledge), but that was years earlier. In this case the attack happened last week and the photos of its aftermath are still being plastered on the news. You can argue that Assad’s use of chemical weapons is a bad reason to attack, but it’s harder to argue that the Obama administration is simply inventing a reason to invade a country it has been wanting to invade for years.

Then there’s the issue of casualties. There’s no discussion at the moment of ground troops in Syria, and so the likelihood of U.S. troops dying is less. Anti-war groups do obviously care about Iraqi or Syrian civilian casualties, but as they’ve learned in trying to organize opposition to U.S. drone strikes, it’s much harder to excite public passion when Americans themselves aren’t dying.

(Photo: Ed Johnson)

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Tweet Of The Day: Britain Stands Above

The story can be read here. Long live competence.

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What The Rest Of The World Thinks Of US

U.S Military Forces in Bosnia - Operation Joint Endeavor

Paul Waldman provides timely perspective on how the rest of the world feels about U.S. military action since 1963:

Some of these operations worked out very well, others didn’t. And just to be clear, this history doesn’t tell us whether bombing Syria is a good idea or a bad idea. But if you’re wondering why people all over the world view the United States as an arrogant bully, reserving for itself the right to rain down death from above on anyone it pleases whenever it pleases, well there you go. It doesn’t matter whether you think some or even all of those actions were completely justified and morally defensible. From here, we tend to look at each of these engagements in isolation, asking whether there are good reasons to go in and whether we can accomplish important goals for ourselves and others. But when when a new American military campaign begins, people in the rest of the world see it in this broader historical context.

If you take a longer look at the list he provides (and do some basic math), you’ll find that the United States has launched one significant overseas assault every three years since 1963 — or every 40 months. Kevin Drum laments how little of this resonates with the American people:

Too many Americans have a seriously blinkered view of our interventions overseas, viewing them as one-offs to be evaluated on their individual merits. But when these things happen once every three years, against a backdrop of almost continuous smaller-scale military action (drone attacks, the odd cruise missile here and there, sending “advisors” over to help an ally, etc.), the rest of the world just doesn’t see it that way. They don’t see a peaceful country that struggles mightily with its conscience and only occasionally makes a decision to drop a bunch of bombs. They see a country that views dropping bombs as its primary means of dealing with any country weaker than we are.

Considering the rate at which we’ve launched bombs against foreign states the past 50 years, we’re actually ahead of schedule for the next round. It’s only been two years since Libya.

(Photo: U.S. military forces in Bosnia — operation Joint Endeavor, by Expert Infantry)

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Good News Of The Day: Men Are Just As Depressed As Women

dazzled maniac Jim Morrison drowns out the haunting whimper of a coyote dying on the road by his dreadful death-scream into the abyssal sun ... HWY 01:23:47

The LA Times has the welcome report:

Depression can look very different in men and women. And many of its hallmarks — rage, risk-taking, substance abuse and even workaholism — can hide in plain sight.

Now researchers say that when these symptoms are factored into a diagnosis, the long-standing disparity between depression rates in men and women disappears.

That conclusion overturns long-accepted statistics indicating that, over their lifetimes, women are 70% more likely to have major depression than men. In fact, when its symptoms are properly recognized in men, major depression may be even more common in men than in women, according to a study published Wednesday by the journal JAMA Psychiatry.

Take that, ladies.

(Photo: Karl-Ludwig G. Poggemann)

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Republicans Were Invited To Attend And Speak At MLK Ceremony. They Didn’t Show Up.

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Before Bill O’Reilly took to the airwaves to argue that “no Republicans and no conservatives were invited” to the 50th Anniversary of MLK’s I Have a Dream speech, I was really struck that out of all the speakers and attendees, not one was a representative of the GOP. Could he be right? Did the MLK family along with democrats purposefully ban conservatives from having a place at such an important, national ceremony?

The answer is no. They were invited. Hell, they were pretty much ALL invited:

As many, many places had reported by yesterday evening, George W. Bush and his father were invited to the event, but declined for health reasons (Bush the Younger just had heart surgery). Jeb Bush was invited as the Token Bush, but also declined. John Boehner and Eric Cantor were invited to speak, but declined. John McCain was invited to speak even though he voted against Martin Luther King Jr. Day, and he also declined. Additionally, every member of congress was invited to attend the event.

Civil rights leader Julia Bond gave credit to Eric Cantor who actually did have somewhere else to be, since the leader tried to find a replacement speaker. The depressing part? He couldn’t. He couldn’t convince ONE conservative to take part.

(Photo: via wikicommons)

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Starbucks Is Better Than Your Local Coffee Shop. Deal With It.

We love Starbucks

When three anthropologists from West Virginia University set out to see how effectively three Starbucks locations in and around Boston matched up against three independently-operated coffee shops, in terms of providing a similar social environment that mom and pop coffee joints are usually attributed with, they probably didn’t expect the results they got:

The anthropologists conducted their observations at Pavement Coffee House in Copley Square, 1369 Coffee House in Central Square, Diesel Café in Davis Square, and in three nearby Starbucks locations. They focused their observations on five categories, derived by sociologist Ray Oldenburg, that describe how urban, social spaces function: how social and welcoming a place is; the arrangement of seating; the activities taking place there (work, socialization, leisure); amenities (like wi-fi and power outlets); and the overall atmosphere, as measured by music volume, volume of chatter, wall color, lighting, and décor.

The biggest surprise was that, on the whole, Starbucks actually provided a more welcoming environment than any of the three local coffee houses. They credited the Central Square Starbucks with having the most vibrant sense of community, and observed that the baristas there knew many patrons by name and could anticipate their orders. The anthropologists also noted that the Starbucks baristas were friendlier to new customers than the bespoke hipsters behind the counter at the local places: “The Starbucks baristas would help customers by explaining the many options available and even offering suggestions. In contrast, the baristas at the independently-owned coffee houses were more aloof and would just wait or sometimes stare at a customer, offering minimal assistance.” The Starbucks friendliness advantage was further accentuated by its greater amenities. In particular, the locally owned coffee shops were more restrictive with their Internet policies, either charging for wi-fi access (Diesel Café and 1369 Coffee House) or setting a cap on daily Internet use (Pavement Coffee House).

(Photo: MissTurner)

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Representatives Urge Obama To Consult With Congress Over Syrian Intervention

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Kevin Drum has the developing story:

Rep. Scott Rigell (R–Virginia) reports that as of a few minutes ago his letter urging President Obama to consult Congress before launching an attack on Syria is “Inching…toward…100… 81 Republicans and 16 Democrats have signed on to our letter so far…” That’s good. But I sure wish more Democrats were willing to get on board.

Why so few Democrats would get behind something as common-sense as this is perplexing, and perhaps telling of how much of Washington is motivated by Partisan hackery. But given that the proposed intervention is widely unpopular (even more unpopular than Congress, if you can believe it), why wouldn’t the President want to get Congress behind him here? Firstly, it would legitimize the action, but it would simultaneously protect both the President and his party from taking on all the blame should it go badly. Even David Cameron called a special Parliament to openly debate Britain’s involvement.

And what will it mean as precedence for this President — who once vowed to never use military force without congressional approval — to circumvent Congress in such a way not even seen during the hellish years of his predecessor?

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Map Of The Day: Sectarianism In Syria

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Max Fisher breaks down the map above, provided by Columbia University’s Gulf/2000 Project, which “shows the different ethnic and linguistic groups of the Levant, the part of the Middle East that’s dominated by Syria, Lebanon and Israel”:

Ethnic and linguistic breakdowns are just one part of Syria’s complexity, of course. But they are a really important part. The country’s largest group is shown in yellow, signifying ethnic Arabs who follow Sunni Islam, the largest sect of Islam. Shades of brown indicate ethnic Kurds, long oppressed in Syria, who have taken up arms against the regime. There are also Druze, a religious sect, Arab Christians, ethnic Armenians and others.

Syria is run by Alawites, a minority sect of Islam whose members include President Bashar al-Assad and many in his inner circle. They’re indicated in a greyish green, clustered near the Mediterranean coast. Although Alawites make up only 12 percent of the Syrian population, they are playing a crucial role in the war, fighting to prop up Assad’s regime.

He also uses the map to further this argument made by the great Fareed Zakaria, which we’ve featured several times here on Left and Center:

Zakaria’s thesis is that what we’re seeing in Syria is in some ways the inevitable re-balancing of power along ethnic and religious lines, with the Sunni Arab majority retaking control from the Alawite minority. He compares the situation to post-2003 Iraq, when members of the Shiite majority violently took power from the Sunni minority that, under Saddam Hussein, had ruled them. That would explain why so much of the killing in Syria has been along sectarian lines. It would also suggest that there’s not much anyone can do to end the killing because, in his view, this is a painful but unstoppable process.

(Map courtesy of Gulf/2000 Project)

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